The Guilford County Board of Commissioners hasn’t raised property taxes in seven years and it’s highly unlikely the board will do so this year.
Now, about those user fees…
Guilford County government’s budget talks for the 2019-2020 fiscal budget are now in full swing and one revenue generator that county commissioners and county staff are discussing is an increase in a multitude of county fees in order to raise more money without resorting to a property tax increase.
Those increases could include things like the rental fee for a park shelter, the fee for using an ambulance, fees for services at the Guilford County Animal Shelter and the fee the county charges to replace lost security badges that grant attorneys and others access to the two courthouses.
In recent budget work sessions, Guilford County staff – who want to see a property tax increase but know by now that they aren’t going to get one from this board – have proposed an increase in a wide variety of fees across many departments. And, while the Republican-majority board has shown that it only lowers, never raises, taxes, the board definitely seems open to the recent recommendations by county staff for user fee increases.
Guilford County Budget Director Michael Halford stated at a work session last week that the current fees Guilford County charges its citizens have on average fallen behind the fees other large counties in North Carolina charge.
“When we look across the state at fees for Guilford County, our per capita average for what we generate from fees is about $36,” Halford told the board. “For counties with a population of 100,000 and above, it’s $110.”
Halford pointed out that fees come out of the pocket of the actual users of the services. He also told the board the price of fees had to strike a balance: If fees are too low, the money raised won’t go far enough toward funding those services, but, if the fees are too high, then many citizens won’t be able to access the services.
The budget director added that having fees set too low means property taxes are higher than they need to be.
“We’ve got to get the money from somewhere,” Halford said.
One increase under consideration is the fee for Emergency Services manning an event. Currently, the county charges $100 an hour for that service and the staff’s recommendation is to raise that to $150 an hour when a new county budget is adopted in June.
Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright said it’s time for an increase.
“This hasn’t increased since 2010,” he said. “Obviously, the wages of our employees have gone up.”
Albright added, “We receive more requests for special events services at times than we have staff.”
Commissioner Jeff Phillips, who’s been a staunch opponent of raising taxes over the years, is obviously open to this discussion on fees.
“Tell us what you believe we ought to do,” Phillips told staff during a recent work session, “recognizing that we may not agree – but, let’s hear it.”